If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Me and Jesus

Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved (Acts 16:30-31).

I should be calmer when I hear the mockery of those who should know better, and yet disdain the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus. But I’m not calm. The idea of whether a person can have such a relationship with Christ is too close to me, too much a part of me. So I get annoyed to hear them say it so often that Jesus’ salvation is a communal experience, not an individual one. The expression, “me and Jesus” – they say – is erroneous theology, unknown to the Church until the post-reformation period.

It could be that those who scorn the idea of “me and Jesus” mean something other than what it sounds like they mean. It could be they mean there is no place in Scripture for ‘me-ism” Christianity – a maverick kind of faith in which the Christian avoids fellowship with the larger community, the kind of Christian who pulls away from others in the body of Christ, who continually changes churches in search of people who “agree” with him or her.

I’ve met people like that. And although Scripture clearly states we should not neglect gathering together for corporate worship (Hebrews 10:25), those Christians often think of themselves as spiritually superior to their fellows and use many kinds of excuses to hold themselves aloof from the Body.

Perhaps that is what those who mock the idea of ‘me and Jesus’ Christianity mean when they disparage the relationship I and so many millions of Christians have enjoyed over the millennia.

If that is the case, then I wish they would be more clear.

But if not, their viewpoint irritates me because not only have I had a personal, intimate and maturing relationship with Jesus during the last 38 years, but a personal salvation is clearly illustrated throughout the Scripture; Which is why a such a relationship with Jesus is – and has been – the experience of millions of Christians, not only in the 21st century Church, but throughout Church history, dating to the apostles themselves.

St. Paul wrote to Timothy, It is a trustworthy statement, worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost (emphasis mine). The apostle also wrote, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 121); and, If any one be in Christ he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). St. Luke recorded Jesus’ words about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (Luke 15). St. Matthew records Jesus’ promise that the hairs of our head – yours and mine – are all numbered by the Father (Matthew 10:30).

As I sit here typing, dozens and dozens of Biblical texts are rolling around in my memory, all of which shout the truth that ‘me and Jesus” is a valid Biblical experience – a wonderful experience – rooted in the supernatural relationship that God offers individuals like me and you.

A personal relationship.

What else could king David have meant when he wrote, O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all (Psalm 139:1-4).

A personal relationship.

Why else would the Lord Jesus have left the ninety-nine sheep in the fold of the community and search for the one individual?

For someone like me.

To take me into his arms and bring me to safety.


Yes, perhaps that is what those who snipe at the ‘me and Jesus’ idea really mean . . . that there is no place for ‘me-ism’ Christianity. But if they mean as their accusations seem to insist, then I hope they will take the time to learn from the Holy Spirit the wonderful truth that Jesus wants to be their personal savior as well.

For in learning that truth, their lives will change forever.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Learning to Appreciate the Tackles

Does not wisdom call, and understanding raise her voice? (Proverbs 8:1, NAB)

I remember reading many years ago of the 1929 Rose Bowl in which Georgia Tech and the University of California squared off on the California 30 yard line. Georgia controlled the ball. At the snap, Georgia fumbled and California player Roy Riegels grabbed the pigskin and took off down field. Suddenly, a roar rose from the crowd. Riegels didn’t know it, but in the confusion he had spun around and was racing toward the wrong goal. Not until another teammate tackled him six inches from the goal line did he realize his error.

Have you noticed, as I have noticed time and again, life’s fumbles often happen that way. We get turned around and, thinking everything is as it should be, we race in the wrong direction.

Just listen to the crowd! We commend ourselves as we run. I’ll be a hero!

Oh, how wrong we can be.

I am so very grateful to have experienced His tackles so often -- because He loves me far too much to let me continue unopposed in my error. Through reading Scripture, listening to homilies, hearing song lyrics or the challenging words of other Christians, Wisdom cries out: "Stop! You’re going the wrong way! Turn around! Repent while there is time!"

If necessary, God even sends circumstances to tackle me before it’s too late. Better to be embarrassed six inches from the goal line than to cross it into disaster.

Over the years, I’ve learned -- more than a few times I've had to relearn it -- to thank God for those tackles, regardless of how badly they hurt.

Or how long they hurt.

Which is why I now pray quite often that God will help me listen more closely for Wisdom’s call, because it is the voice of my loving Father drawing me away from the wrong goal. . .

And back to Himself.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Even for an Abortion

This essay appears in similar forms in my two books, “We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed,” and “Lessons Along the Journey.” As we approach the anniversary of Roe v. Wade – the 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion in the 50 United States – I decided to post this essay again on the blog because my abortion was a sentinel event in my life, a horrible and defining blight on my past. I repeat my story because it illustrates the magnitude of God’s grace, love and forgiveness.

In heaven we will know each other by the glance of the soul. – St. Elizabeth Seaton

Has it really been more than 40 years since I killed my baby? It seems like only last week. I remember what my girlfriend wore when I drove her to the clinic, where I parked the car, how many dimes I dropped into the parking meter . . . .

1967. Six years before the US Supreme Court legalized abortion in all 50 states. New York was one of a few states in which abortion was legal. I was 17, my girlfriend, 18. Both of us, I told myself, were too young to bear the responsibilities of a baby.

"What do you mean, you're pregnant?" I asked when she returned from the doctor’s office. I knew she expected me to propose marriage.

Instead, I talked her into having an abortion.

It was easy to suggest that alternative. I chose to believe our baby was only a glob of cells growing in her womb. I chose to believe Judith had the right to choose what to do with her own body, and that every baby should be a wanted baby. I embraced every excuse I’d ever heard because each one freed me of my obligation to Judith and to our child. A few months after the abortion, my girlfriend and I went our separate ways.

Today, my son or daughter would be more than forty years old. Perhaps she would be a teacher. Or a physician. Or a musician. Or a . . . Perhaps I would be a grandfather.

But there is no perhaps. I can never turn back the clock and silence the lies and excuses that over-ruled my conscience.

I lived with the ache of what I’d done for many years, until I found solace in Christ’s forgiveness, and hope in Scripture’s promises. Two in particular brought me peace: “if we acknowledge our sins, he is trustworthy and upright, so that he will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all evil” (1 John 1:9); and, “in [Christ], through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. Such is the richness of the grace which he has showered on us . . .” (Ephesians 1:7, 8).

I could rest in the assurance that God forgave me for killing my baby, although my terrible sadness lingered.

However, thirty-three years after becoming a Christian, the Holy Spirit deepened my comfort when He led me to the Catholic Church and I learned the full meaning of the Communion of Saints. The Church’s teaching of that Communion assures me that, because of God’s great mercy, my baby is in heaven – and she is praying for me.

And, most important, she forgives me.

Oh, what solace that thought provides; She forgives me.

When Christians repeat the inestimable words of promise in the Nicene Creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” we can take great comfort in knowing that those who wait for us around God's throne – even those we hurt in this life – forgive us. Washed in the blood of the Lamb and now perfected in love, they wait to welcome us to an eternity of forgiveness and love.
Nothing we’ve done is beyond God’s forgiveness

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A New Temple

Then the people of Israel the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy (Ezra 6:16).

When the people laid the new temple's foundation, those who had seen Solomon's temple wept as they remembered its former magnificence (See Ezra 3:12 and Haggai 2:9). They wondered aloud how the new could possibly compare with the old

But when they dedicated the new temple after its completion, the people rejoiced. And with good reason. God had closed the book on the past. Israel's sins sank into the sea of His forgetfulness. The people could now move into the future and leave the past where it belonged.

Christians can learn a valuable lesson from this bit of history. Many of us look over our lives and discover our "temple" spoiled by sin. We weep to realize how close we’ve come to destruction – or in some cases, how our temples have suffered destruction.

It took years of arduous labor to rebuild Solomon's temple. But we can become God's temple in a moment, through the Sacrament of baptism. After our baptism, we are a re-cleansed temple through the Sacrament of confession.

And in that instant of time, the old self cannot compare in majesty to what is now new.

Think for a moment what that means. Our sins – all of them – vanish into God's forgetfulness. The past disappears like a vapor. The almighty and glorious Lord of Heaven takes residence in our bodies. We become His temple.

No wonder angels rejoice when God's prodigals come home.

And we have good reason to rejoice, too.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Wings of Angels

This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17).

The Lord's temptation in the desert provides us an important lesson when our own life falls out of control. You remember what happened in the Jordan. John baptized Jesus as the crowd watched. Then the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove, rested on Jesus, and a voice thundered from heaven: This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

One might have thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

But in the next verse, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert.

For 40 days, nearly six weeks, the beloved Son of God, the One in whom the Father was “well pleased” endured severe trials. Alone. Hungry. Cold. Tired.

And then Satan showed up to add to His struggles.

The Temptation lesson is an important one, especially for us who endure our own loneliness, loss, hunger, and heartache. Although Satan will use those things to try to fool us into thinking God is angry with us, that God has forsaken us, or God is unaware of our struggles, yet it is those very struggles – severe as they may be – that give us a chance to imitate what Jesus did. With each lie, Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father whom He knew loved Him.

How did Jesus know He was beloved? He’d just heard it at His baptism. And He believed it.

Armed with that knowledge of the Father’s love, Jesus could wield Scripture like a razor-sharp sword against each sly demonic attempt to pull Him from the path leading to our redemption.

Jesus said, “It is written” (verse 4).

Jesus said, “It is written” (verse 7).

Jesus said, “It is written” (verse 10).

Many years after His resurrection, Jesus showed St. John a vision of the Church’s future, a future in which Christians would endure great suffering and death at the hands of Satan and his followers. Through the entire book of Revelation, but specifically in chapter 12, verse 11, St. John tells us Christians would overcome Satan, “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and that they did not love their lives even when faced with death.”

How can that be? How can Christians withstand such an onslaught of evil? Because we know God loves us. How do we know that? We heard it at our baptism. We hear it in the words of Scripture each time we read it or hear it.

And we believe it.

Jesus was not led into the desert because the Father was angry with Him. God led Him there to model for us the behavior that will overcome Satan’s deceptions in the midst of our own deserts – to do as Jesus did: entrust ourselves to the Father who loves us, defend against Satan’s lies with God’s word . . .  and wait patiently for the deliverance that will surely come on the wings of angels (Matthew 4:11).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Consider Job

Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me (Job 10:18).

Like a heavy woollen shroud, despair smothered Job. Disasters ravaged his property, murdered his servants and destroyed his children. Boils covered his flesh. His friends heaped more misery onto his sagging shoulders with accusations that his hidden sins brought death and destruction to those he loved.

No wonder Job wished he had died in the womb. I probably would, too. 

But, as he sat in sackcloth and ashes, Job did not know the immeasurable good that God would bring to millions of others who would also suffer desperate heart-ripping trials. His stalwart resolve to serve God, even from the pit of despair, has helped saints and sinners through the centuries continue on with God despite their personal conflagrations. Caught between disaster and fluttering faith, men and women have looked to Job’s ordeal and found one more whisper of encouragement to keep walking with God, even when every step set their souls on fire.

I’m glad Job didn't die in the womb. His faith in our God, who sometimes seems galaxies
away, has often helped me stay the course, keep the faith, and look beyond my heartache to the One who, in truth, is always good, and ultimately a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.